Saturday, 25 January 2014

ShadowCraft ShadowProtect - Employee of the Month

The last two weeks have been absolutely awful. The IOmega NAS I mentioned in a previous post had a large number of things go wrong with it all at the same time, resulting in complete failure and total data loss. This also meant a significant amount of down time for a client and ridiculous amounts of stress for me.

The good thing to come out of it was the performance of ShadowProtect. This backup solution far exceeded my expectations to the point where once the recoveries were completed we had only lost 10 minutes of work. Very little data was realistically lost, only time as we worked to recover it. The Recovery Environment was easy to use and the Hardware Independent Restore allowed me to recover virtual machine from VMware 4 ESX to VMware Player, a physical machine and also to XenServer 6.2 quite a remarkable feat really. I've had this client running in borrowed hardware for a week while we get new gear in.

The snapshot capability, ease of restore and simply replication of backup files makes ShadowProtect a real winner. Check it out! 

Saturday, 4 January 2014

Experiences with the IOmega ix12 NAS

One of my clients has an IOmega ix12 - a rack mounted, 12x3.5" bay NAS. This one in question is running 2.6.5.something firmware and has (or should I say had) 8 x 1TB disks in it. Today it dropped another one. The NAS has been set up with a RAID10 with total storage of 2TB (1.5 or so in reality). Although it has this redundancy, I can assure you it's not all that it's cracked up to be. In the main storage pool is a number of iSCSI drives shared out with various ESX servers. Sadly, the largest and most important of these iSCSI drives has an unfortunate tendency to vanish whenever there is a disk issue.

Today one of the drives failed. No big deal right? RAID10 is tolerant of such faults usually. This one kept going except for the aforementioned large drive that disappeared like magic. After replacing the disk, impatiently waiting for it to rebuild and then attempting to reconnect the iSCSI drives I realised I still couldn't see it. The fix? Turn the NAS completely off, count to 30 and turn it back on again. Once it booted, just like magic everything reappeared. Be wary of this. My previous post was the precursor to this. Finding out the actual issue is still to be completed.

I'm concerned about upgrading the firmware because the backups, while reliable, are never straightforward to recover and I'd hate to have to recover so many disks. Its a job for next week I reckon.

Friday, 3 January 2014

VMware nightmares

After a great couple of days away I was called urgently to work - one of my client's networks was down and my colleague was stuck. The VMsphere client couldn't see the hosts, which couldn't see their datastores and the network had zero stability. Yay. Just wanted I wanted to come home to.

The servers are running ESXi 4.1 that needs a few updates but the networks stability has always been a real issue for us. We took it over from some other chaps, solving a long series of issues with the servers and particularly the IOmega NAS. Throw in a database issue on one of the guest servers that kept the disk IO at absolute peak all the time and things were pretty tricky. All those things have been resolved, more or less, and the network had been fully functional for some months. So why did it change? Several reasons and I hope you take away from this some ideas for yourself.

The NAS appeared to have dropped a disk and while it has a RAID10 set up, it paralysed the system (not at all like the FreeNAS I've talked about before). The whole thing fell over and we shut it down before reseating the disk and powering back up. The NAS detected the disk and began a rebuild. The VMware hosts couldn't see the datastore though and the server managing the virtual environment periodically disconnected from everything. Initially we thought it was a network issue and restarted everything. The hosts were slow to come up, with errors in the logs indicating an inability to see the iSCSI disks. We could connect to the NAS via it's web interface, ping it and it looked quite happy on the network so we couldn't understand what was happening. An added complication was we have a new HP NAS on the network and while we were able to migrate several of the hosts to it, we've had problems getting then started. Don't know why, but the host's cpu goes through the roof everytime we try to start them. I thought we might have an all paths down bug and most of the documentation suggests a call to VMware and let them sort it out. At 8pm at night this isn't so great a plan, and with the client losing production time and money we had to solve it.

So with all these errors and problems left and right I was at a loss. Eventually we took inspiration from The IT Crowd and turned it all off, counted to 10 and started it back up. Would you believe that it took 3 reboots of the management server before the VMsphere client would connect to anything - especially considering it was running locally! The iSCSI shares from the NAS became available finally - there was a service issue on the iOmega NAS that was failing silently. It was alleging that all was good and it really wasn't. Now those shares were available we were able to reconnect to the datastores and boot the guest machines. The management server was still disconnecting from the hosts constantly but we were able to at least get things going. There is still quite a bit to do there but the servers are finally running.

Going forward I think we'll use XenServer and NFS shares. Simpler, fully functional and quick. Easy to backup and expand disks. Adios VMware I reckon.

The final thought is "Have you turned it off and back on again?" Something in that for all of us :-)

Wednesday, 1 January 2014

The pure awesomeness of Google Forms

As a Google Apps reseller it never fails to surprise me how many people love Forms. I swear, I could nearly sell Google Apps to people just based on Forms. If you've never used it, here is a quick run down of what it can do for you:

  • create a web form very quickly and easily, choosing from a range of different responses including:
    • time (duration and date)
    • multiple choice
    • checkboxes
  • create separate pages based on responses
  • autofill a Google Spreadsheet
  • automatically create a summary of responses with a range of different graphs and information instantly
  • embed it into websites
  • email notifications of changes and updates
  • make you more popular with friends (OK maybe not this one!)

Some examples of how I use Google Forms:
  • PC Audit
    • capture make / model, RAM, CPU etc
  • Job Audit
    • bookings for jobs
    • completion of job information
  • Incident responses
Seriously they are awesome and if you're trying to do any type of statistics about stuff, they are a terrific place to start. Make sure though that your questions are good and that you choose the right type of responses to get the right Summary of Responses. It's cool though - you can change it even with live data in the spreadsheet. I have taught a friend how to work Google Forms in under 15 minutes - it is that straightforward. Enjoy!